Google only has to delete links to articles about people from its hit lists if those affected can provide sufficient evidence of obviously incorrect information. The Federal Court of Justice (BGH) decided on Tuesday in Karlsruhe. Search engine operators are therefore not obliged to investigate themselves and to approach those affected. The decisive provision for the BGH in this case was Article 17 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
The BGH was based on a judgment of the European Court of Justice from the end of 2022 (ECJ). However, the Karlsruhe judges agreed with the plaintiffs on the point that no preview images (thumbnails) with them as a motif without any context may be displayed in the hit lists. (Ref. VI ZR 476/18)
A financial services couple went to court to have several articles critical of their investment model no longer appear as hits when their names are searched on Google. A US website published the texts in 2015, one of the articles was illustrated with photos of the plaintiffs. Its operator was in turn accused of specifically launching negative reports in order to blackmail those affected. Google did not remove the links to the articles, saying it was unable to judge whether the allegations were justified.
From the Cologne Higher Regional Court to the Federal Court of Justice, the ECJ and back
The Cologne Higher Regional Court ruled in 2018 that Google may continue to display most of the texts in question. The plaintiffs had not presented an obvious violation of rights as required. The plaintiffs then went to the Federal Court of Justice, which dealt with the case for the first time in 2020. Because there are uniform standards for data protection across the EU, the Senate consulted the ECJ. In particular, he wanted to know whether Google would have to conduct its own investigations in such cases – with the risk that one link might be removed from the hit list more than one too few.
The ECJ, in turn, had decided that those affected would have to prove themselves that the information about them is obviously incorrect. In other words, “if the person requesting delisting provides relevant and sufficient evidence to support their request and to show that the information contained in the listed content is manifestly incorrect or at least a part of that information that is not insignificant for that entire content is manifestly incorrect” . If they succeed, Google must remove the links to the content in question.
Thumbnails not justified
Google has to delete the thumbnails because “a display of the plaintiffs’ photos, which are not meaningful in themselves, as thumbnails without any context” was not justified, the BGH has now decided. This topic was discussed at length at the oral hearing in April. The plaintiffs defended themselves against images from an article that show them, among other things, in a convertible or during a helicopter flight – allegedly proof that “backers and initiators” indulged in luxury.
Here, the Google lawyers insisted that the motifs should not be deleted in general, but only if they are stored with the link to the article in question. A total ban is not legal because it forces Google to actively filter.
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